Saturday, March 18, 2017

Spring training adventures, part 2: Mets vs Astros at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches

A fastball hisses in the nanosecond before it reaches the plate and lands with a loud pop in catcher’s mitt. It hurts your palm just listening to it.

You learn this when you are sitting four rows behind home plate. Dad snagged the best seats I’ve ever had for a Major League game for our second Mets game of the spring.

Game two: Mets vs Astros, Ballpark of the Palm Beaches

Ballpark: The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches is the brand-new facility and home to the Astros and Nationals. It’s a sprawling complex in a park-like setting.

There are some neat design elements, and some quirks. For example, the parking is on the fringes so you have to walk through the practice field area to get to the main stadium, which is in the heart of the complex.

The stadium itself isn’t very distinguishable from the outside, but there are giant cap logo structures for both the Astros and Nationals on the approaches. It’s a neat touch that I’ve never seen before.

I’ve also never seen signs warning fans not to get too close to the retention ponds because of alligators. Good to know.

Inside the park seemed a little sterile. Now, to be fair, the park had been open just a week at this point and as we learned from Citi field, it will takes a little time to build character and add color. There was a scramble to get the park completed by the spring opener and I’m sure we’ll see things added in the years to come.

Stamping: In the team store. The clerk knew exactly what we were doing and let me do the stamping.

Cap quest: There were many, many kinds of caps in the store for the Nationals and Astros – even one with the iconic rainbow stripes on the brim. But as with the Jupiter store, the sweet caps with the Florida outline were nowhere to be found.

Program: They were available for $5 on the concourse and in the store, with versions for both the Astros and the Nationals. I snagged one of each. Both came with a page-sized Jeff Bagwell card on heavy stock commemorating his recent Hall of Fame election. It has a very nice scorecard with special spaces for the pitchers.

Cup: This is a bit of a letdown. This is a souvenir cup in name only. It’s translucent plastic with the ballpark logo. Not the inaugural season logo, mind you. The vendor said he was filling it up to the very top because there are no reduced-price refills. Everyone has reduced-price refills when you buy the stadium cup. I suspect this policy will change soon.

Autographs: None, and this is one of the park’s flaws. I get a sense that it’s not designed for fans, but rather to attract group outings.
Usually the best place to get autographs in the spring – at games, anyway – is the first row from the dugout to bullpen.

But at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, that whole area is dedicated to party boxes, and the netting extends practically all the way down the line, because goodness knows people sitting in those seats aren’t paying attention to the game.
Party boxes dominate the space between the dugout and the left field foul pole.

There was one spot far down the line in the corner without netting. I went there, and an usher told me I couldn’t stay.

It was different along the third base side, with the more traditional setup.

Cool stuff: I hung out in the grassy berms watching batting practice and had some nice, brief conversations with players.

Me: Hi, Sean. How you doing?
Sean Gilmartin: Great!


Me: Hi Frank. How is Zach Wheeler doing?
Frank Viola: Zach’s doing well. He’s starting on Friday.

So armed with inside knowledge of the Mets’ most pressing pitching question of the spring, I was content to sit back and watch batting practice.

At one point I head Mets infielder Peter Alonso shout “Heads up!” to the handful of us standing on the berm, and in fell a baseball from the bat of either Peter Biondi or John Mora.

To say I “caught” the ball isn’t exactly accurate. It hit the berm and I triumphantly picked it up, showing all my first-ever batting practice homer.

Ballpark food: I was looking for something less complicated than our Cardinal Dog at Roger Dean and was relieved to see your basic hot dogs. Slight complaint: It was a dog in a foil bag.

Now, I’m not a concessions expert. But I don’t know anyone who likes a dog in a bag. 

This is a sign that the dogs are prepared long in advance, will be lukewarm and the bun will be very soggy and sticking to the hot dog.

Game time: With these spectacular seats, I didn’t want to miss a moment of the action. We were just off the plate and close to the Mets on-deck circle – or at least the place where the players stand when they don’t want to stand in the on-deck circle.

Not a ton of starters made the trip. We again enjoyed Juan Lagares, Michael Conforto, Matt Reynolds and Wilmer Flores. They were joined by Asdrubal Cabrera, which was nice!

Robert Gsellman started for the Mets, and was a little rocky, giving up a couple runs in the first. Logan Taylor got hit pretty hard and give up 5 runs, three of them earned. The Mets defense was not at its best this day.

The Astros tacked on more runs in the seventh, with my new friend Sean Gilmartin giving up 3. Astros first baseman A.J. Reed hit a monstrous homer in the eighth, but the game was well out of hand at that point.

On the Mets side, Cabrera led off the fourth with a homer that just cleared the fence in left. It looked like awkward swing and everyone seemed surprised that it left the park. The Mets other run came on a Lagares sacrifice fly in the fifth.

Final score: Astros 12, Mets 2. But still an awesome day at the park with Dad.

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